Zuma May Face No-Confidence Motion, Parliament Speaker Says
By Arabile Gumede
South African parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete said she’s considering a request to recall lawmakers to debate an opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma, after he made sweeping cabinet changes that top ruling party officials said was done without their consultation.
“Given the seriousness inherent in the motions of no confidence and their implication on the nation, I have therefore decided to cut my trip to Bangladesh short to ensure that these requests are given the appropriate consideration,” Mbete told reporters Sunday as she landed at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Parliament is currently on its Easter recess.
Zuma and his cabinet would have to resign if a no-confidence motion succeeds, Masibulele Xaso, the National Assembly secretary, said at the briefing. Mbete ruled out a secret ballot in a possible vote, saying it’s not in the rules of Parliament.
The announcement followed increased pressure from within the African National Congress and opposition parties that’s been building on the president since he fired Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and made 19 other changes to his administration early Friday. Zuma’s actions sent the rand tumbling and borrowing costs soaring. The demand for parliamentary action came from the main opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Front.
The rand weakened 0.3 percent to 13.4482 per dollar by 8:39 a.m. in Johannesburg on Monday.
The decision by Zuma, 74, to fire Gordhan, with whom he feuded over control of state finances, and to not consult with his top party officials on the other cabinet changes brought to the open South Africa’s biggest political crisis in almost a decade. Zuma told his party’s leaders that Gordhan was divisive in the cabinet and blocked other ministers’ projects, according to a person with knowledge of their meeting.
Zuma replaced Gordhan with former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba, 45, who has no financial or business experience.
The ANC has used its 62 percent majority in the 400-seat National Assembly to block four motions of no-confidence, which require a simple majority to pass, and one impeachment attempt filed by the opposition since Zuma took office in May 2009. It’s been comfortably the biggest party in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The outcome this time is less certain after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe and Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize publicly questioned the manner in which the cabinet changes were handled. The trio make up half of the party’s committee of top officials. Jackson Mthembu, the ANC’s parliamentary chief whip, also criticized on Twitter the decision to fire Gordhan, while the South African Communist Party, which is in an alliance with the ANC, urged Zuma to quit, describing his actions as “recklessness.”
Mbete said that it isn’t in the ANC’s “culture” to publicly criticize its leaders and that there’s no rule forcing the president to consult with the party’s top echelons to discuss cabinet changes.
While Ramaphosa described Zuma’s reasons for firing Gordhan as “unacceptable,” Mkhize said the president’s failure to consult the ANC’s top leadership about the rest of the cabinet changes “left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the center” of decision making in the government.
Along with Zuma, Mbete, who is also the party’s chairwoman, and Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte round out the ANC’s top six officials. ANC leaders are scheduled to meet on Monday.
The cabinet changes come less than nine months before Zuma is due to step down as ANC leader, and a year after the nation’s top court found that he violated his oath of office when he refused to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home. His second and final term as the nation’s president is due to end in 2019.
“I am alive to the extreme challenges and sense of anxiety that our young democracy is going through at this moment,” Mbete said. “Our people are looking to parliament to play its part and exercise its constitutional responsibilities.”